A menacing animal is terrorizing residents of an upscale waterfront community just outside New Orleans. But it's not your run-of-the-mill beastly wild animal. Instead, it's a sweet-faced bottle-nosed dolphin and hospital officials say he's already taken a bite out of three people who have entered the waters of Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, La.
Second in size to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Lake Pontchartrain is home to many wild animals. The Slidell Dolphin, as the juvenile male is known, made the body of water his home just after Hurricane Katrina when a small pod made their way into the lake. The pod eventually left--leaving the lone dolphin to fend for himself.
Residents in the community of Lakeshore Estates say they are not only concerned for one another, they are concerned about the animal's safety as well. "Somebody's going to get bitten by this dolphin, they are going to get mad and they are going to shoot the dolphin," one unidentified resident told ABC affiliate WGNO.
Members of the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife held a community meeting earlier this week, bringing in experts from NOAA to help determine the dolphin's future and advise residents on ways to avoid the aggressive mammal.
The basic concept includes abiding by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits giving food to many wild animals including dolphins.
Stacey Horstman, bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service, told ABC News she spent two days observing the aggressive dolphin--who appeared to have a few injuries related to its proximity to humans--such as a healing cut from a sharp fish hook.
"Fishing gear and boat-related injuries are common for wild dolphins that have lost their natural wariness to people and boats because of our interactions with them," says Horstman. "We observed people encircling and corralling the dolphin with their jet-skis and boats. They were also reaching out to grab his fins and flippers and otherwise touch and pet him with their hands and objects."
It's this interaction that makes the male dolphin lose his natural wariness to humans. "The dolphin is showing normal male dominance behavior. However, these behaviors are misdirected at people and boats because of people interacting with him."
Unlike water park attractions, Horstman advises that it's not safe to pet or lure the creature. "The most important thing to do is to avoid seeking out the dolphin to play or swim with it. If you are recreationally swimming in the canal, stay close to the water's edge to avoid swimming in the middle of the canal where the dolphin tends to swim. If you see the dolphin, leave the water as quickly as possible to avoid any potential interactions."
This is not the first time animals synonymous with being cute and lovely have gone rogue. In April, 37-year-old Anthony Hensley drowned after being attacked by a swan. The father of two worked for a company that used the natural beauties to keep geese from a local neighborhood.
While patrolling a local lake on his kayak, police believe Hensley got too close to the swan's nesting area and was attacked. He rolled off his kayak and drowned while the feathery bird continued to attack him.
For now, NOAA has no plans to remove the Slidell dolphin, something residents are split on. "He's my neighbor," one local man tells WGNO. Another resident tells the station, "He's not in a natural environment. Maybe they should find him a girlfriend."
"The most effective and safe solution for the dolphin and people is to change our human behaviors that have created his behaviors," says Horstman. "Therefore, we currently don't plan to move the dolphin for this reason and because research also shows that relocating animals is not an effective or long-term solution."